The intra-Korea summit on April 27 may well be recorded as historic, writes Youngsu Won from Seoul, but questions remain about how stable any peace that emerges will be.
The Panmunjeom Declaration signed by Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in clearly signifies Korea’s transition to peaceful coexistence. This development is welcomed by all except for anti-communist hysterical lunatics, nationally and internationally.
The Kim-Donald Trump summit, scheduled for sometime in late May or early June, is supposed to finalise the agreement between leaders of the North and South.
As long as Kim Jong-un confirms his willingness to denuclearise and end hostilities between North and South Korea, Trump has no other option but to accept the agreement. Furthermore, Trump’s response based on the meetings between Kim and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seems to suggest high hopes for ending antagonisms between North Korea and the US.
The summit was a huge success for North and South Korean governments in turning the crisis into an opportunity to implement peace and mutual cooperation. The best result was eliminating the sense of war crisis that has dominated the whole Korean peninsula over the past year.
A survey found 82.4% of respondents were satisfied with the summit’s results and 78.9% with the denuclearising agreement. Accordingly, the approval rate for Moon Jae-in’s governance has risen to 79.4%.
On the other hand, support for the main opposition party, Liberty Korea Party dropped to just 12%. Hong Joon-pyo has harshly criticised every aspect of the summit and Moon’s government. Hong’s demagogic slanders amount to his own political suicide, as he is now faced with opposition from the ranks of his own party.
As every minute of the summit was televised, the hopes for peace are felt to be real and the support of an absolute majority is a matter of fact. Thus, fortunately for all, the way to peace and cooperation is wide open.
Straight after the summit, the South Korean army removed its propaganda system along the demilitarised zone between North and South. North Korea also adjusted its time zone to South Korea’s, which has followed Japan’s even after liberation from Japanese occupation at the end of World War II.
This prompt implementation of agreed-upon items at the summit further validates the authenticity of the intra-Korea agreement.
Kim Jong-un’s success
As a young dictator, Kim Jong-un first consolidated his power internally, even killing his uncle-mentor and his own brother. He followed this with launching an international challenge to the US through a series of missile launches and nuclear weapon experiments.
Then, in the face of huge pressure from outside, he stacked up his cards and took an unexpected sharp turn to peaceful negotiation.
Kim’s turn has improved the North Korea’s relations with South Korea. The summit in March with Xi Jin-ping also recovered friendly relations with China, placing him in an extremely favourable position.
Kim’s unexpected, unilateral declaration ending nuclear tests last month has decisively paved the way for a peaceful solution to the war crisis.
Thus, in the face of coming NK-US summit, Trump is on the defensive, and hostile hawks within his administration are now sidelined. Trump’s unilateralism diminished his legitimacy considerably — for instance, his revocation of Iran-US nuclear deal.
Therefore, Trump is now busy trying to save face, and any opposition from within is about technicalities, not the essence.
In a sense, Kim’s gamble worked perfectly. His verbal war with Trump abruptly turned into a high-profile diplomatic stunt.
At the moment, especially with hope high for peace, Kim is without any doubt viewed as a people’s hero, whether he is liked or not. This is quite like Joseph Stalin after the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II, which was decisive for beating fascism.
Judging from Kim’s consolidation of monolithic rule, North Korea seems to wish to follow the path of China’s “modernisation”. He will seek to control the process of economic opening and development, mobilising huge support from his former enemies.
However, the problem is what will happen after a lasting peace is secured.
Interestingly, South Koreans are getting more realistic as peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation comes close. A discourse of national reunification is replaced by that of “unification-lite”. Many worry that the problems that occurred after German reunification will repeat in Korea.
At this moment, however, no one thinks of the fate of ordinary citizens of North Korea. It is clear that South Korean capitalists and North Korean bureaucrats will benefit, rather than the people who have suffered most from the national division and antagonism — even though the future of Korea will depend on them.
The official end of the Korean War (replacing the armistice in place since 1953) and establishment of a lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula is an absolute positive for all Korean people and their neighbours. When this goal is secured after a series of the summits, the Korean Peninsula will finally emerge out of the historically cruel Cold War regime of national division.
However, both the Korea’s entry into “a normal country” is still in the framework of some form of capitalism. The ultimate problem of the summit was that, in the course of the agreement between leaders, people at the grassroots have been excluded completely. They have never been consulted in any form.
In this crucial point, sadly, the role of the working class, social movements and the radical left has been minimal at best. Relegated to mere spectators, they failed to organise any meaningful intervention during the crisis. Neither a peace movement nor anti-imperialist struggle was organised to push the denuclearisation nor lasting peace.
However, the looming peace is not stable. Many obstacles exist and the structural limits of geopolitics still hang over the Korean Peninsula. Thus, the struggle for real peace and full democratisation lies ahead on the peninsula and East Asian region.
In a new context, the lessons from past failures need to be learned. A new dynamic for popular emancipation needs to be imagined and prepared for.
[Youngsu Won is a coordinator of the International Forum in South Korea.]